Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Avid bird watchers and tourists come to Keokuk, Iowa each winter to observe the Bald Eagles in their breeding grounds along the Mississippi. Frequently, these birds nest along the Des Moines River as well, and are often seen at Douds, Keosauqua and Bonaparte.

Cranes and herons are now observed within Van Buren County in abundance. Pelicans have occasionally been seen on the Des Moines River, and I was very surprised one day to see a pair of swans gracefully swimming in the river above the remains of the Bonaparte dam. Osprey and large hawks are also commonly seen swarming over the river waters in search of prey.

As a child I enjoyed watching flocks of sea gulls around the Douds-Leando bridge, particularly during spring and summer. What I didnít know until recently was that there are at least two varieties that nest and breed along the river in Van Buren County.

One of these is known as the "Franklinís Gull." This bird measures about 11 inches long and is known as "the gull of the prairies." With a black head, a white stripe and black area on the lower part of a white-trimmed wing, it produces an impressive wingspan reaching up to 35 inches. These gulls circle in the air like hawks to catch insects and fish, and have a call that sounds somewhat like a chuckle.

The other type of gull that returns to the Des Moines River each summer is the "Bonaparte Gull." It resembles the Franklin Gull but is slightly smaller with a 32-inch wingspan. The Bonaparte Gull does not have the black area on the wing, although the tip of the wing has bright black rather than white trim. The low, quacking sound made by this bird is another distinguishing factor.

I am far from being an authority on wild life, particularly birds. These birds mentioned are just a few of the species we have to offer observers, as it seems our resident bird population is increasing in types as well as numbers. In terms of a natural bird sanctuary, the Des Moines River is an asset that is generally ignored.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick